At the beginning of the playoffs, it would have been absolutely ridiculous to predict John and Jim Harbaugh facing off in Super Bowl XLVII. However, thanks to an unlikely and shocking sequence of events, the two teams will meet with a Lombardi Trophy on the line.
Colin Kaepernick took over in Week 11 for the 49ers and never looked back, and he’s 7-2 as a starter and 2-0 in the playoffs. Plus, in the postseason Kaepernick has scored five touchdowns, and he has the 49ers in the Super Bowl after rallying from a 17-point deficit in the NFC Championship.
Joe Flacco and the Ravens were down by six in the second half of the AFC Championship at New England, but Flacco went on a rampage and threw three second half touchdowns while avoiding an interception. Flacco had won a playoff game in his first five seasons, but he finally broke into the Super Bowl. Flacco is an experienced playoff veteran, and he can let his 8-4 playoff record do the talking when critics speak.
Flacco and Kaepernick are two of the NFL’s strongest quarterbacks, and Flacco completed four 20-plus yard passes in a span of just over 10 minutes against the Patriots. He terrorized the Patriots’ defense and made crisp, accurate throws (in the second half, as he was a bit off in the first half) while allowing his playmakers to make plays. Anquan Boldin made two nice touchdown grabs, but only because Flacco threw both balls where only Boldin could catch it.
Kaepernick, on the other hand, threw only 21 passes and completed 16 of them, but he threw a touchdown and made some plays. He got Vernon Davis involved, and set up touchdown runs with great throws. He has proved to be a very good quarterback, winning two tough playoff games and getting the 49ers to the Super Bowl, which Alex Smith couldn’t do.
Now, the former Nevada and Delaware State quarterbacks will square off. Last year, the Ravens beat the 49ers in a 16-6 defensive war on Thanksgiving, but this will be a different game. And that’s all because of the two quarterbacks.
Kaepernick set a record with 181 rushing yards in the Divisional Round against Green Bay, and he is always a threat to run out of the read-option. The 49ers have running backs as well, but Kaepernick did very well. He had eight completions and one run for 17-plus yards in a span of about 25 minutes, propelling the 49ers to success against the Falcons.
While the stats say otherwise, Tom Brady did somewhat well against the Ravens, as a bad-luck interception and a couple of drops halted some drives. Kaepernick’s receivers are not dropping passes, and he has faith in every single one of them. That’s why he spread the ball around in the NFC Championship, and if he does that again, the Ravens will be in trouble. Their second cornerback, Cary Williams, isn’t all that great, and Randy Moss is set-up for success in this matchup.
Against Atlanta, Davis, Michael Crabtree and others made themselves available, and Kaepernick was very accurate and very smart. He didn’t force passes, and he looked very calm with the exception of two throws. He didn’t try and scramble for everything, and he threw to the open guy.
Baltimore’s defense has struggled, and if San Francisco can continue to keep Baltimore, which struggles against the run, off-balance by mixing up the play calls, Kaepernick can shred their defense, which is ranked in the bottom half of the league.
Flacco also stayed in the pocket and made plays, not forcing throws and hitting the open guy. He distributed the ball to a lot of guys, as Anquan Boldin, Dennis Pitta and Torrey Smith each hauled in four-plus receptions.
The 49ers’ defense struggled against Atlanta, and Flacco has the potential to do what Matt Ryan did: throw for almost 400 yards. Ryan threw for 396 yards and three touchdowns, and while he was intercepted, it was because Roddy White slipped. Ryan stayed in the pocket, had all the time in the world and found his playmakers. Atlanta has great receivers, and so does Baltimore. So, Flacco has the potential to carve up the 49ers.
But on the flip side, the Falcons were held scoreless in the second half. The 49ers have done a great job against tight ends, and if they can get pressure on Flacco (which they failed to do to Ryan), they can easily slow him down. Better yet, he is not a threat to run, and pressure often causes him to toss up a deep ball that’s not always accurate.
Flacco isn’t always classified as elite, because his stats aren’t the best and, well, what I just said. But he has thrown eight touchdowns and no interceptions in the playoffs, which is classifies him as reliable. I expect Flacco to have a very good day against the 49ers.
However, the Ravens can and will be shredded by Kaepernick. Brady was off on some of his throws against the Ravens, and there were some drops as well, in addition to lots of guys open. If Brady didn’t get intercepted and turn the ball over on downs on three separate fourth quarter possessions, New England could have beaten the Ravens.
But, what if Kaepernick converts on those opportunities?
The Ravens have been on defense for lots of time this postseason, and the 49ers can wear out the Ravens by keeping their defense on the field. Mixing in the read-option with some nice throws from Kaepernick will wear out the Ravens, and Baltimore will have trouble preventing guys from getting open.
So Kaepernick will have guys open. And so will Flacco. So will this be like the last 49ers-Ravens game? Not at all.
Both defenses are struggling and showing weaknesses that can easily be exploited. Flacco and Kaepernick are both, in my opinion, top-10 quarterbacks, and I think that while Ray Lewis, Haloti Ngata and Ed Reed are on the Raven D and Patrick Willis, NaVorro Bowman and Justin Smith are on the Niner D, it will be a high-scoring game.
It’s easy to call the quarterback position a draw, but I’m going to go with Kaepernick here. Flacco took a long time to get into a rhythm against the Patriots, and I think it could be hard in the Super Bowl if Baltimore falls behind. Flacco gets help from Ray Rice, and if he is a non-factor, which a lot of running backs are against the 49ers, it could hurt.
The Ravens ran for 121 yards and a touchdown against New England, and Ray Rice alone ran for 131 and a touchdown against the Broncos. Against the 49ers, there is no guarantee of that happening, and that can and probably will hurt Flacco.
Kaepernick, on the other hand, is incredibly good when it comes to the read-option, and he’s got a strong arm and isn’t forcing passes. He is completing passes and proving to be very efficient, and he’s also always a threat to take off. San Francisco hasn’t been abandoning the run, either, which is why they beat Atlanta. So Gore will be a threat all game, and that will only make Kaepernick more effective.
And all of that will lead to a sixth championship coming home to San Francisco.